Local renters finally got a dose of good news Tuesday -- there were more new rental units under construction last year than in any year since the late 1980s.
Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC) said in its 2010 year-end housing-starts report released Tuesday construction began on 807 rental units in the Winnipeg Census Metropolitan Area (CMA).
Dianne Himbeault, the corporation's senior market analyst for Manitoba, said that's the highest yearly total since 1988, when CMHC began keeping electronic records.
"More than half of the multi-family starts in 2010 were for the rental market," she said, "(which is) good news for Winnipeg renters who are facing a vacancy rate that has dipped below one per cent."
CMHC reported last month Winnipeg's overall apartment vacancy rate had fallen to its lowest level on record -- 0.8 per cent -- from 1.1 per cent a year earlier.
Although 807 more units won't have a big impact on the overall vacancy rate -- Winnipeg has more than 52,000 units in its rental apartment universe -- it's a clear sign developers recognize the need for more apartments and are more willing to build them.
The only other times in the last 22 years Winnipeg saw anywhere close to that many rental starts were 2006 (619) and 2007 (803).
Local developers and property managers have long complained decades of rent controls have discouraged new apartment construction because they've kept rents in existing apartments artificially low. They've said that in an era of soaring construction costs, it's hard to keep rents for new suites low enough to compete with existing ones, which increases the risk of them sitting vacant after they're built.
But a spokesman for one of the most active apartment developers in the city -- B.C.-based Broadstreet Properties Ltd. -- said it's had no trouble finding tenants for most of the 957 new units it has built over the last three or four years.
"We're fully rented right now in all of our existing properties," said Broadstreet vice-president Bill Thomson, including its 172-unit East Concordia Manor complex that was competed last year.
He admitted leasing activity at its newest project -- the five-building, 957-unit Creekside Terrace development in Sage Creek -- is going a little slower than expected. But he attributed that to people being reluctant to move in the winter.
Thomson said the company plans to continue building about 500 new rental apartments or townhouses per year for the foreseeable future.
"We'd like to get up to 3,500 (total units in the city)," he added. "We really like Winnipeg."
CMHC said local homebuilders sprinted to the finish line in 2010, banging out twice as many new housing starts last month as in December 2009 -- 263 compared to 126. The 807 rental units were among 1,323 new multi-family units started last year in the Winnipeg CMA. That was two and a half times the number started in 2009. That, coupled with a 27.6 per cent jump in single-family starts, boosted total starts for the year by 60 per cent to 3,244 units -- the highest yearly total since 2007's 3,371.
Manitoba's 2010 numbers were even more impressive. Its seven largest urban centres combined had the highest annual number of total starts (3,966) and multi-family starts (1,644) since 1988. They also had the second highest number of single-detached starts (2,322).
"It was an excellent year. Everybody was busy... " said Manitoba Home Builders Association president Mike Moore.
A look at CMHC's housing-starts report
Key numbers from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.'s December and 2010 year-end housing-starts report:
Winnipeg Census Metropolitan Area*:
263: total starts in December
108.7: percentage increase from December 2009's total of 124
143: number of single-detached starts
15.3: percentage increase from a year earlier, when there were 124
120: number of multi-family starts
2: number in December 2009
3,244: total starts for 2010
59.6: percentage increase from 2009's 2,033
1,921: number of single-detached starts
27.6: percentage increase from 2009's 1,505
1,323: number of multi-family starts
150.6: percentage increase from 2009's 528
Manitoba urban starts**
3,966: total starts in 2010
42.2: percentage increase from 2009's 2,789
2,322: number of single starts
23.9: percentage gain from 2009's 1,874
1,644: number of multi-starts
79.7: percentage increase from 2009's 915
Canada's urban starts:
171,500: seasonally adjusted annual rate of housing starts in December
13.5: percentage decline from November's seasonally adjusted rate of 198,200
* Winnipeg and 10 surrounding municipalities
** Total starts in Manitoba's seven largest urban areas: Winnipeg, Brandon, Portage la Prairie, Thompson, Steinbach, St. Andrews and Hanover.